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Had Harrison Groutage been content merely to carve out a place as one of the West's foremost landscape painters, an entire generation of Utah artists would have been much the poorer for it. But, to their great fortune, Groutage coupled his genius with a brush to an uncommon ability to inspire and to nurture the talents in others.
One need only scroll down a list of current Utah artists to understand just how many identify the Cache County native as a mentor. To these, and to hundreds more who took his classes at Utah State University over three decades, Groutage was a larger-than-life model for what an artist, and a teacher, should be: smart, passionate, caring, committed, witty, and just plain likable.
At his death Tuesday at 87, Groutage was numbered among an exceptionally gifted generation of Utah-educated landscape artists who flourished in the mid-to-late 20th-century, among them LeConte Stewart, George Dibble, Gaell Lindstrom, Ed Maryon, Alvin Gittins and V. Douglas Snow.
Groutage had no interest in using his brush to simply "copy nature," as he put it. A self-described "abstract realist," he sought to celebrate, to dramatize a landscape. Snow said a Groutage painting was recognizable for the freedom and ease of his renderings. In short, "He wasn't fussy."
Groutage or "Grout" to friends and family was adventurous with his art, adding several genres to his baseline proficiency with oils and watercolors. He took pride in knowing his way around acrylics, pastels, charcoal and casein. "Hell, I've even made pots," he told The Tribune in 2005.
Exhibiting an artistic bent as a teenager, he designed posters for coming attractions at a Logan movie theater. He was determined to make the most of his innate gifts, believing that art, and the ability to create it, required sacrifice and hard work.
Once, surprised by the artistry apparent in a relative's intricate handicraft, he observed, with not a hint of jest, "If you don't develop your talent then you'll burn in hell for it."
Groutage was among the most peripatetic of artists, gaining inspiration from frequent travels throughout the West and Mexico. But Utah, from top to bottom, from mountain to desert, was in his blood and inspired a majority of his paintings.
"If you want to learn the landscape," he said, "you have to get outside and experience it."
Harrison Groutage did that, brilliantly, making the landscape of art, and the art of teaching, more rich and colorful than he found them.